Just two years ago things seemed to be looking up for the OHL in Mississauga. The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors had a high profile owner in Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. Their attendance was on the rise. They were about ready to host the Memorial Cup. It's amazing how things change in just two years.
After the Majors hosted the Memorial Cup in 2011, Eugene Melnyk owned the team for just one more year, and expressed frustration in continually losing money. There was great speculation as to the future of OHL hockey in the GTA. The Brampton Battalion are without a lease past the 2012-13 year, and speculation of a shake-up with one of the two teams leaving was abounding. In the end, Melnyk sold the Majors to former part-owner of the Mississauga IceDogs, Elliott Kerr. As part of the sale agreement, all trademarks pertaining to the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors were returned to St. Michael's College and the Mississauga OHL team was forced to re-brand ... for the second time. This once again closed the book on the long history of the Majors franchise in the OHL.
Elliott Kerr and his team re-branded the team, the Mississauga Steelheads, named after a fish that can be found in local rivers. The problem for fans is that this is the third incarnation of OHL hockey in Mississauga, first having taken on the Mississauga IceDogs, only to have them sent to Niagara and immediately having them replaced by their rival from Toronto to become the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.
The Steelheads still have all of the challenges that the Majors and IceDogs had. There is still no local radio station to offer coverage, and there is no major newspaper. The city of Mississauga is still a stone's throw from Toronto which features the iconic Toronto Maple Leafs and the upstart Toronto Marlies. The new brand in Mississauga is almost like starting from scratch, without the excitement of expansionism.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions are one of the areas in which there has been a noticeable drop. The four Hershey's Snack Bars in the four corners of the arena remain. Their menu remains fairly unchanged. They offer the standard fare which is found in most arenas. You can get some pizza, fries, hot dogs, and soda. Pepsi products are featured at the Hershey Centre. As you might expect, there is also a higher than usual variety of Hershey candy at the Snack Bars as well.
Molson Canadian and Rickard's Red can be found at the beer stands and in the Molson Canadian Lounge. There used to be a few specialty food stands, which are gone now. The Subway stand remains, but the stand for the Oktoberfest nuts was dark and the Cheesecake Factory stand that was once a hit is nowhere to be seen. The loss of the specialty stands drops the concession rating a full point from where it used to be.
This is the other area where a significant drop has taken place. When Mississauga lost the rights to use the Majors trademarks, they also lost all of the history that came with the Majors franchise. The concourse is now barren, where there used to be murals to great players from the Majors past.
Inside the seating bowl, the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II remains above the Molson Canadian Lounge, and is a nod to what was once a must in every Canadian hockey arena. The rafters are barren as there are no previous teams to honour. It is surprising that there is nothing of note for the Memorial Cup that was hosted in Mississauga in 2011.
Essentially this is the same franchise as the Majors, but no division championship banners or anything like that can be found anywhere. The lone banner hanging is a nod to over a decade of OHL hockey in Mississauga. The Mississauga News mural around the press box is also gone. All of this makes the blank advertising boards above the luxury boxes that much more noticeable.
The rebranding of the Steelheads has borrowed from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The new uniforms feature the blue and white colours of the Leafs as well as their base jersey. The new mascot for the Steelheads is a giant fish named Sauga.
The highlight of the atmosphere remains the videoboard, which is arguably the best in the entire league. It is big and crystal-clear. The Steelheads do a good job of using the board to their advantage. The Steelheads put together a decent opening video, as well as a video honouring the Olympians and Paralympians that were in attendance.
If you are thinking about hitting a spot to eat or drink that is within walking distance from the Hershey Centre ... fuhgetaboutit! The Hershey Centre is located in an industrial area with not a lot around. If you are looking for a meal, the car is a necessity.
One of the best spots to stop is Lick's on Hurontario. They have great burgers, but are not licensed to sell alcohol. The Harp in Port Credit is also an option. You could also head down to the humongous Square One Shopping Centre. Around there you can find Boston Pizza, Canyon Creek, Jack Astor's, Alice Fazooli's and Ruth's Chris Steak House.
The strides that were made with the Majors have been lost with the Steelheads. Currently, the fans are staying away. In the short OHL season, the Steelheads are bringing out an embarrassing attendance of fewer than 2,000 fans per game. That is even worse than the rival Brampton Battalion for a lock on the basement in the OHL.
What is even more worrisome is that the competition hasn't shown up. Both the Marlies and Maple Leafs have not yet started. The Toronto Blue Jays are had a horrible season as well. The bonus for not being an expansion franchise is that the Steelheads have a decent team on the ice. The fans need to start showing up at the Hershey Centre. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how strong the lease at the Hershey Centre is, there won't be OHL hockey there!
Getting to the Hershey Centre is simple. It is conveniently located near both highway 401 and 403. There is plenty of free parking at the Hershey Centre. There is also very little competition for spots. The night of this review featured hockey at the adjoining arena, and there were still plenty of spots for everyone.
With a small attendance, the concourses and washrooms are more than adequate as well.
The Steelheads provide pretty good value. Tickets can be had for $15 a piece. Combine that with free parking and decent concession prices and the end result is good value for your dollar. The Steelheads are also a decent team on the ice. The ROI drops off from the Majors as the atmosphere and fans are not providing the return that they once did. Hopefully, both categories will show improvement over time.
An extra mark for the Steelheads honouring local Olympians and Paralympians before the game of this review.
An extra mark for Steelheads goaltender Spencer Martin who sports goalie equipment that is brown, which gives him an old-school look back to the '80s.
An extra mark for the Hershey's Kiss lampposts outside of the Hershey Centre.
It's a shame that the strides that were made under the Majors have now been lost. The Steelheads have a ton of work to do to bring the atmosphere back up to where it was when they were the Majors, which also had a ways to go. The future of the Steelheads in Mississauga must be in question based on the beginning of the 2012-13 season. Hopefully, the Steelheads will find some success, so they can take a Major step forward. Some time must be given to the Steelheads, but they were on borrowed time to begin with.
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Where is the toughest place to run a hockey team? How about right next door to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Mississauga, Ontario is a mid-sized city west of the Maple Leaf-mad city of Toronto. Operating a hockey team in Mississauga comes with a whole host of issues. There is no local over the air radio; no major newspaper coverage; only local cable TV coverage. With all of this in mind, the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors continue to make strides to provide a product that is appealing to a local audience living right next door to the largest market in Canada.
The Majors have a long and rich history which dates back to 1906 when they were the Toronto St. Michael's Majors. The Majors were owned and run by St. Michael's College, which is a private, catholic, all-boys school in Toronto. Hockey alumni going through the doors at St. Mike's is a who's who of hockey royalty. Hockey Hall-of-Famers who called St. Mike's home include Ted Lindsay, Dick Duff, Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich and Tim Horton. (Yes ... the Tim Horton of doughnut and coffee fame).
The Majors ceased operations in 1964, but returned in 1997. Upon their return, the Majors were purchased by St. Mike's alum, and owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk. Melnyk attempted to find a more appropriate place for the Majors to play rather than the small barn on the campus of St. Michael's College. With little success, Melnyk eventually bought the OHL team Mississauga IceDogs solely for the lease to the Hershey Centre. The IceDogs were eventually sold and moved to the Niagara Region, and the Majors relocated to Mississauga to become the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. The Majors maintain their affiliation to St. Michael's College and many of the current players attend the school.
The Hershey Centre has had a stale and lifeless existence during the IceDogs years, but the Majors have attempted to change that. This is just in time for Mississauga to host The Memorial Cup in 2011.
Maybe a little biased as I am a season ticket holder but this really is a beautiful rink under appreciated by the folks in Mississauga great big video board, wide open concourses, free parking and cheap tickets come see it while there's still a team to see.
55 Lakeshore Rd E
Port Credit, ON L5G 1C9
5029 Hurontario St
Mississauga, ON L4Z 3X7
100 City Centre Dr
Mississauga, ON L5B 2C9
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